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The Cost of Short-Term Thinking as a Brand

Feb 27, 2024 | 5m


Short-Term Thinking Destroys Brands

Brand building is critical to success, but it takes focus and time Marketers today have little patience for it.  C-Level management now focuses all of their attention only on activities that can deliver predictable and immediate ROI. This short-term thinking detracts from brand building pursuits that will actually bring in loyal customers, increase margins, and and grow market share that results in sustainable ROI through good and difficult times.

Apple is a prime example of what happens when companies invest long-term in brand building. When Apple hit rocky times in the mid-90s, pundits widely predicted the computer maker’s demise. The front page of Rolling Stone Magazine stated “Death of an Icon”.  But thanks to the loyalty cultivated through almost 2 decades of ongoing, focused and smart branding, many customers stuck by the company until it found its feet again under returning founder Steve Jobs. No other tech company at the time could have survived that period. The power of the brand and the devoted following among customers enabled Apple to survive and become what it is today. 

The Dangers of Discounting

Unfortunately, such long-term thinking around branding has become extremely rare among public companies. Instead, firms tend to rely entirely on constant sales promotions to boost short-term revenues at the cost of their brand identities. 

Indeed once-strong apparel brands like Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy have abandoned building emotional connections with shoppers in favor of an overwhelming focus on discounts and giveaways. Such strategies may pay dividends today, but slowly eat away at a brands’ essence. When lean times inevitably arrive again, companies that haven’t invested in building brand excitement have few loyal customers to see them through those times.

Additionally, when brands constantly offer discounts, promotional activities simply won’t hold the same sense of urgency, as customers know that the next sale is right around the corner. As a result, promotions are rendered less effective in driving sales. 

Leading for the Long Term

So how should executives lead today inside pressure-cooker public companies? Brand stewards can’t simply ignore marketplace realities, but should find a way to balance their short term targets with longer term investments into building the brand. 

One problem is that many Heads of Marketing and Chief Marketing Officers today are not actually marketers.  They come from a sales background, which marketing is skewed towards promotional activities that technically fall under the Sales discipline. 

If you’re a marketing leader, position your company in such a way that you’re doing things to make sure you’re as profitable as you can be along the way, but invest to be successful in the long term. That means putting brand building at the heart of strategy, not allowing it to be deprioritized or waylaid by budget cuts or hour stock prices. Ideally, boards and stock holders would judge leadership on their long-term roadmaps, not just on hitting the next quarterly EPS target.

Committing to Brand Experience

Crucial to your brand is ensuring that every customer touchpoint reflects the brand promise. Think about branding as a cross functional pursuit, from the in-store experience, to the product, to how support staff responds to a customer on the phone. All of these elements contribute significantly to how your customer experiences your brand. A Brand is not just a Logo, Tagline, or Marketing in General.  Steve Jobs paid immense attention to the whole product experience when he started and later returned to Apple.  He focused on the entire journey from the out-of-box experience, to the support available online, by phone and at Apple Stores.

Walking the Walk

Many executives talk a good game around brand building while making decisions that undermine long-term success. It is quite contradictory because while they will acknowledge how impressive Apple’s brand is, they’re unwilling to put real investment behind the kinds of activities that Apple did to get to where it is today. In today’s environment the first question is always “What is the ROI on this?” This greatly inhibits marketers from thinking bigger about brand building activities in which ROI is longer term and not immediately measurable.

Indeed great marketing can’t simply be a regurgitation of something that has been tried and tested, with a known ROI. Think about the iconic ads that Apple came out with when the iPod first launched. It was the silhouette of a woman dancing, holding an iPod.  The only copy in the ad was one word ‘iPod’. This concept was promoted through Print, Billboards and TV.  It had never been done before! No one could’ have pre-measured the ROI on those ads. Yet it brought excitement and intrigue to this fresh new product category. Similarly, the Think Different ads that Apple ran featuring iconic visionaries such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr, Amelia Earhart, Pablo Picasso, and Mahatma Gandhi were a masterclass in brand building. 

To build great brands, leaders should lead with courage and conviction. And perhaps remembering the words of Jeff Bezos, who once said about Amazon: “If we have a good quarter, it’s because of work we did three, four, five years ago. It’s not because we did a good job this quarter.” 

The world’s strongest brands live by that ethos. For executives striving to build companies that stand the test of time, it’s advice worth heeding. Don’t fall into the trap of managing your business on the daily stock price

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Jon Holtzman


Eclipse Worldwide



Branding Marketing Strategy